Colton Boushie of the Red Pheasant Reserve died of a gunshot wound to the head, a gun a jury decided had discharged accidentally. Gerald Stanley was holding the gun; the presence of drunk teens invading his farm would logically have aroused his anger and he was probably right in saying that under the circumstances, he wasn’t thinking straight and may have had no intention of killing anyone when he got out and loaded the handgun. Perhaps his overriding impulse was simply to protect his wife, son and his property from danger. I could understand that.
Like most people who followed this story, I can’t possibly know exactly what the teenagers’ or Gerald Stanley’s motivations were, theirs in invading Stanley’s farm property, his in taking out and loading the gun and pointing it at Colton Boushie’s head. Too drunk to remember perfectly, the teenagers’ testimony could hardly be relied on to recreate the tragic chain of events objectively. The Stanley family would obviously have super-strong motivation to frame the events in a manner that would lead to the result that finally obtained, and so their testimony is equally suspect.
There are plenty of people who purport to know what went down, but elevating what I think and stating it as fact isn’t helpful. What is knowable is the degree to which tensions have arisen in many times and many places between indigenous and settler neighbours. What is also knowable is that a handgun is a lethal weapon, and as a spoon is primarily made for ladling food, a handgun is manufactured for the purpose of taking life. What is further knowable is that settler/indigenous conflict is the product of a history and that prejudice and stereotyping go back to early settlement, residential schools, treaty failures and the form of apartheid we came to call the reserve system.
In a way, Colton Boushie was murdered in 1492 when Columbus stepped off the Santa Maria and the colonial theft of the Americas was set in motion. In a way, Colton Boushie was murdered by the policy geared to clearing land for settlement by making treaties and then failing to fulfill the conditions agreed to. In a way, Colton Boushie was murdered by the many, many conversations about “useless, thieving Indians” carried on over settler fences and across tables in coffee shops in settler towns for years now.
It’s something most of us never experience: that look in a stranger’s or neighbour’s eye when you meet and their look signals so clearly that you are despised for who you are, even if you’re not known. How much those looks—over and over again—contributed to the behaviour of the teenagers in the car with Colton Boushie that night can’t be measured by me. How much the community history of animosity and suspicion contributed to Gerald Stanley’s loading a handgun and firing it can’t be known by me either.
I’ve lived on a reserve racked by poverty, I’ve paid attention to the working of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I’ve heard a stream of news on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry and like you, the unbelievable statistics regarding suicide on reserves have appalled me. We have neighbours whose despair and disappointment is so deep that many can’t see any possibility of a better life.
That should spur us to action, if for no other reason than that the prevention of tragic events like Colton Boushie’s death is far, far better for all of us than the fruitless debating of who’s to blame, and court cases that resolve nothing. If I don’t care enough to pay attention, to make my voice heard on the side of reconciliation, then I’m as much to blame, probably, as . . . well, as Gerald Stanley?
God forgive us all . . . we apparently don’t know what the hell we’re doing!